Thursday, September 30, 2010

What Captain Kirk would do with the Texas oil companies and Proposition 23

Proposition 23 would use its weasel language to kill California's premier law to fight climate change, AB 32 (requiring rosy economic conditions that rarely happen before AB 32 could come into effect). It's a tool of Texas oil companies to delay inevitable action to address climate change.

The oil companies could have vigorously expanded into alternative energy, but they chose this approach instead - trying to slow down their demise by taking California and the rest of the planet with them.

I agree with Captain Kirk:

You can start after minute 1, or at minute 2:30. I need to learn how to edit these things.

Attention literalists: I don't advocate doing this to real humans (or real Klingons), but for the fossil fuel corporations that are trying to take us down with them, I've had enough.

The No on Prop 23 Campaign is here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The small, non-zero set where Laughlin is right and Hansen is wrong

Michael Tobis dismantles the "thought" involved in a piece by physicist Robert Laughlin that mostly repeats the climate consensus science. With the scientific depth that anyone could get from Wikipedia, Laughlins says that on the time scale of centuries, after we're done adding CO2 emissions to the atmosphere, most of it will be absorbed by oceans but some will remain in the atmosphere, heating the climate for more centuries/millenia until geologic processes finally capture it.

The alleged insight by Laughlin is his argument that we're going to consume all fossil fuels so all the handwringing and attempts to escape the future won't work. This is a political judgment that we're incapable of making a decision to refrain from burning everything. I don't see why a physicist has any great claim to insight on that question. (It also ignores the possibility of sequestering carbon and keeping it sequestered, but that's just yet another flaw.) Due to Laughlin's poor writing, where he says things like the climate is "beyond our power to control" he confuses people with potential denialism, but I think he's basically talking about his political willpower claim.

To a tiny extent, though, Laughlin has a decent argument. People like Jim Hansen opposed the cap-and-trade legislation this summer because it wasn't perfect and instead reflected political compromises. I think Laughlin is right that our political will isn't infinite, and Hansen is wrong to reject a solution that reflects political constraints. Laughlin just goes way too far in the other direction of assuming zero political willpower.

My own little electoral campaign reflects this. My Republican opponent has never mentioned climate change, so I don't know how he feels about it. I've talked about how our Water District has to deal with it, and is dealing with it. I could theoretically argue that we should also immediately cut our water consumption in half, which would reduce a lot of energy demand by eliminating the need to pump water from the Sacramento Delta all the way to here in Santa Clara County. But I think that's unrealistic, and instead we just need to focus on conservation that's possible. We can't do everything, but we can do something, and I think both Laughlin and Hansen need to get that right.

One other note. To be fair to Laughlin, he gets this right: "humans can unquestionably do damage persisting for geologic time if you count their contribution to biodiversity loss. A considerable amount of evidence shows that humans are causing what biologists call the “sixth mass extinction,” an allusion to the five previous cases in the fossil record where huge numbers of species died out mysteriously in a flash of geologic time. "

I've thought for a while that the mass extinction we're causing, probably dating back to the extinction of ice age mammals, and definitely dating back to numerous island extinctions, could be seen as our biggest effect on the environment, one that will take millions of years for nature to fix. Climate change accelerates the problem because species have to move in response, but we've destroyed the connecting habitat that could make migration possible.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My Water District campaign update - so far, so good

I wrote a while back that I was running for office for a Director's position at the Santa Clara Valley Water District, and my low output here lately has a lot to do with the work in the election. It's a lot of work.

So far, so good though - here's the campaign website endorsement list, and it's pretty good. I've got one opponent whose campaign says they're going to raise a boatload of money, so that's the challenge to deal with.

I've tried to tie some of my work with climate change, but it's not the first thing that voters focus on. Still, flooding of San Francisco Bay is a concern among folks, and I've tried to pick up on that. I'm also hoping to help mobilize people against Proposition 23 (the Texas oil funded proposal to kill California climate change efforts) at the same time through the campaign.

It'll be even more interesting if I get elected. I'm not sure how many bloggers focused on climate change went on to get into office. We'll see what I can do if elected. Eli Rabett has rightly focused on the fact that the problem is with the political system, not the scientists, but I'll do what I can on my level. Of course, if anyone wants to pitch in a hand by telling their friends in north Santa Clara County to help out, or even by sending a contribution, that's fantastic too.

Hopefully the posting will pick up a little after the election, and even better, discuss what the heck to do because I've been elected.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Denialist Attorney General shot down in Round 1

Virginia's Attorney General Cuccinelli attempted to investigate Michael Mann for fraud because Cuccinelli (let's call him Cooch) didn't like Mann's views on climate change, but that's hit a road block. A judge thinks the investigatory demand should spell out what the fraud was before Cooch can legally require the University of Virginia to open all of Mann's computer files to Cooch investigators. From the opinion (p. 3-4):

In order for the Attorney General to have "reason to believe" [that fraud may have occurred], he has to have some objective basis to issue a civil investigative demand, which the Court has power to review.
What the Attorney General suspects that Dr. Mann did that was false or fraudulent in obtaining funds from the Commonwealth [of Virginia] is simply not stated....

Cooch really has two problems here: first, he couldn't figure out how to say "I think Mann may have intentionally misrepresented data in order to show compliance with grant funding that he had received." That's the first-year law student mistake which has received deserved ridicule.

Second and more important IMHO is that Cooch needs an "objective basis" for suspecting fraud: a little thing called "evidence." Absent that, Cooch is just doing a little thing called "witch hunting." Restating the demand to actually suspect a fraud also requires a reason to suspect fraud, and the judge could decide if the reason is ridiculous.

There's more to the opinion, mostly against Cooch, a little in support of him. The University's lawyers went for the approach of "try any argument that could potentially win" instead of limiting to a few arguments that show Cooch was making frivolous claims, so Cooch did win a few of the subsidiary battles while losing this round. My guess then is that this judge wouldn't sanction the Attorney General for making a frivolous demand, unfortunately.

Unless he's foolhardy, Cooch won't revise his demand or appeal. OTOH, maybe he thinks there are more judges in Virginia whose understanding of the law matches his own.